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Excerpt from Marathon 1990: Festival of New One-Act Plays, Series B
(New York Times Theater Review, June 4, 1990)

by Mel Gussow

In Shel Silverstein's hipster "Hamlet," Melvin Van Peebles rises from a front stoop and tells a loopy tale of royal Danish duplicity, replet with contemporary flourishes. Both the writer and the actor are in fine comic fettle, an antic disposition shared by Curt Dempster as director. Mr. Silverstein's Shakespearean rewrite is the curtain raiser of Evening B in the Ensemble Studio Theater's continuing "Marathon 1990" of one-act plays.

Somewhat in the manner of Mr. Silverstein's "Devil and Billy Markham," presented this season at Lincoln Center, this is a monologue in verse. It is a kind of street rap that imitates the rhythms of Robert Service and Clement Moore.

In the author's plot-twisting compression, the Ghost has a tattoo that says Gertrude Forever, Yorick's skull makes an appearance before Polonius is planted behind the arras, and Ophelia is much more of a designing woman. But the high points are in place as is a healthy share of contumely.

The most mirthful digression is Hamlet's instruction to the recalcitrant Players. The Player King has paid his dues (to Actor's Equity and otherwise). He is aghast at the suggestion that he re-enact a murder to an audience including the murderer, but accepts the assignment after the director meets all of his demands (billing above the title and seats for all his friends to the performances of the play within a play).

When moodiness strikes, Mr. Van Peebles (who plays all of the roles) delivers a curve ball of a soliloquy, finding rhyme even if there is no reason and adding modern meaning to Hamlet's Oedipal complexity. Mr. Silverstein's version of "Hamlet" gets the Ensemble Studio evening off to a rousing start...

Editor's note: "Hamlet" was later published as a very long poem in the January 1998 edition of Playboy Magazine with the title "Hamlet As Told On the Street".

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